Hannah Peters | Staff Writer
March 09, 2023
Books, as great and informative as they may be, have limits when it comes to verbally connecting to readers. But on Wednesday, Gumberg Library found a way to get around this barrier.
Their spines might not be bound by paper, string and adhesive, but for a short time, students were able to “check out” a unique resource at the library – Duquesne University police officers.
Throughout the day, students had the chance to head up to the 5th floor of Gumberg Library to meet, question and connect with those that work to keep their campus safe. Refreshments, including cookies and brownies, were also served.
The event was titled “Human Library” and is the first one of its kind on Duquesne’s campus.
Duquesne’s chief of police, Eric Holmes, credits his friend, also a police chief in the city, for the idea.
“A good friend of mine in law enforcement started one at a local library in the city and after getting a tour of Gumberg Library this summer, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity,” Holmes said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to do more outreach because I really believe in that. I want to connect with as many departments and groups on campus as possible.”
Starting as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16, Holmes found his way to Duquesne after working as an officer for Pitt’s campus and eventually the city of Pittsburgh where he served 25 years.
Several other campus police officers joined Holmes in his human library. Each had a small sign stationed at their table indicating their name and a prompt that read “Ask me about” with a specific fun fact.
Holmes asked students to inquire about the four U.S. presidents he has met: Clinton, Obama, Biden and Trump. Another officer, Alfonso Roberts, urged guests to ask about his favorite hobbies.
Some of them included sports (mainly basketball and football), art, specifically graphic design and pencil drawing, restaurant exploring and video games. Roberts is even nationally ranked in several games including the Xbox game “Blazing Angels” where he said he has made the top 25.
“I was a video gamer from an early age, using machines you guys have probably never heard of,” Roberts said.
He shared that connecting with students is a major goal of his and his colleagues, and sharing his interests and hobbies has helped him accomplish this.
“I believe in getting to know your community, and the people inside your community. Rapport is huge. To have rapport with students and faculty can actually forego a lot of potential problems,” Roberts said. “I pride myself in de-escalation and redirection. When you can get to know someone, you can help them de-escalate faster.”
Another way that the officers look out for students is through the rules that dictate life on campus. When a rule is not serving students or staff as it should be, they take effort to change it for the better.
For instance, Holmes worked to change Duquesne’s procedure surrounding false IDs.
“When things come to my attention, we’ll look at them,” Holmes said. “The officers came to me and said ‘Hey, we think we should change this rule to help the students out.’ So I had the discussions and changed the rules for false IDs. The procedure before I got here is different than what it is now – we used to be giving non-traffic citations on first offenses and now everything just stays in-house.”
He said that his beliefs regarding the role of law enforcement motivated the change.
“I believe we are a part of the educational process. University policing should not be punitive. We should not be going out looking for things. Now violations come our way, obviously, but I told the freshmen this summer, we are about second chances.”
Holmes mentioned that students also can get involved in promoting safety on campus.
“See something, say something. Be an extra set of eyes and ears,” Holmes said. “Seeing something and saying something is super important in today’s day and age. I like to say that we co-produce public safety on campus here. Everyone has a role to play. We get there by talking, by bringing suggestions back and forth. When we disagree, I think that’s important too. There has to be some pushback.”
Another way for students to get involved is through the Chief Advisory Board which meets on the last Wednesday of the month to cover happenings and concerns on campus. Holmes encourages students to contact him at his email, email@example.com, to get involved.
Holmes has also partnered with residence life for ‘Fireside Chats’ where residents of the dorms on campus come to interact with Holmes and other officers to discuss safety on campus.
Holmes has worked on several fronts to make positive changes at Duquesne – another one being opportunities for women.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve made it a point to hire female officers. We’ve done that because I believe that we, the university, the campus, should have them here. That’s something that needed to be done.”
Holmes spoke highly of those he strives to protect at the Human Library on Wednesday.
“The students here, you guys are focused on your studies. Knock on wood but we don’t have incidents that are happening at other locations. I think here the community is strong, everyone knows their purpose,” Holmes said. “Loved ones, guardians, partners, whoever that may be, trust us to be here to protect the ones they love. The officers here all take that very seriously.”